Sunday, May 27, 2012

Jungle Safari!

I've been two weeks in India now! It feels like so much longer, and so much less at the same time.

My first week brought a mixture of delight and shock. Bangalore in Kanartika state is the third largest city in India, with a population of about 5,310,318! Cars, bullock carts, and auto-rickshaws zig-zag down narrow dirt roads. Random cows, chickens, and pigs wander along highways and country lanes. Here's a calf nursing from its mother on the go:

Now that's what I call fast food!

That's only the beginning. Women in colorful saris and trailing scarves or black Muslim burkas showing nothing but their eyes cling two or three to the backs of sputtering motorbikes. The smell of mangoes, gas, garbage, and open sewage all mix together, and the spicy curry leaves my mouth burning after a meal.

With the kids I wanted to shout, “What was I thinking?” My attempts to teach eleven children ages 4 to 10 recorder and poetry and Bible stories involved a lot of screaming (from the children) a lot of headaches (for the house parents) and much exhaustion (for me). Add to this that two of the children didn’t speak English yet, and the rest had such a thick accent I couldn’t understand a word they said! Need I mention the developing world inconveniences of cold showers, dysentery, mosquitoes, and no air conditioning? One day I had severe stomach pain, and my fingers, toes, and eyelids are all swelling up from the heat.

“Just love the kids,” George the director encouraged me. “More than anything, we just want to show the love of God to them.”

I tried to take his advice to heart as we went for a three day/two night outing the following week into the jungle, a rare treat for the children. For eight hours we drove sixteen people in two five passenger cars, no AC and no seatbelts. Children bounced on laps as we jostled down the pot-holed highway, past Mysore, toward Utiya in Tamil Nardu state. A sixty-pound kid isn't hard to hold for the first five hours, but once you've past six, I've discovered, they start feeling mighty heavy.

An hour into the drive, little Punith vomited all over my dress. Fortunately he hadn't had breakfast yet, so it was mostly just water. I repeated to myself, Just love the kids as I asked Punith if he was all right. He turned and smiled at me, totally oblivious to the fact that you’re “supposed” to feel miserable when you throw up. We washed soon after a local restaurant, and it was like it never happened.

We reached the jungle camp at around 2:00 in the afternoon where we enjoyed a buffet lunch of many delicious curries. In the evening we played Bible games and watched the cricket semi-finals. My favorite part was dancing to Indian songs around the campfire. I shared a small cabin the three girls: Susannah, Hemulatha (Hemu for short) and Sardangeli (Angeli for short). They loved listening to stories I had written: Dargon the Human Slayer and Treasure Traitor. Two girls had to share a bed and one slept on the floor, but they kept exclaiming how nice everything was. To them it was a luxury hotel.

In the morning we enjoyed an early trek through the subtropical forest. The clouds reached down to touch the mountains as mist, and the sunlight danced through the thick canopy of leaves.

Here we are, crossing a stream:

Later in the day our guide took us to a river where the children could play. The water flowed so swiftly we had to cross it by linking hands. But we found a place with some nice falls, and the children loved splashing and fishing alongside with the wandering cows.

There was cactus there, in the middle of the jungle!

In the evening, a jeep safari revealed wild peacocks, deer, bison, golden monkeys, black-faced Indian langurs (a type of large monkey) and elephants (all tamed ones, used in the local logging business). A red squirrel as long as my arm enjoyed watching us in the afternoon after lunch each day, and on the second day, I even got it to eat a leaf from my hand!

On the way home, we stopped by the Mysore zoo. It was a bit hot for me, but the kids loved it!

I came back from the jungle feeling much closer to the kids, more ready and willing to love them, just love them, and let whatever teaching and help they need flow from that.

Prayer Requests: Health, and a good school year that starts for some of the kids this Friday. Also, I'll be attending a discipleship camp for five days this coming week. I hope to learn a lot and be able to pass it on!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

First Week in India!

Wow, it’s hard to believe I left for India a week ago! Here finally are some pictures.

Abu Dhabi International Airport. The central structural support looks like something out of a sci-fi movie:

This is the apartment where George lives, on the third floor:

This is my bedroom. There’s a map of India on the left wall. My small desk is on the right, but you can’t quite see it. The left door across leads to the bathroom, the right door my balcony.

My bathroom. (Yes, I have my own personal shower and toilet. I wasn’t expecting that!) Though I had a bit of a surprise Wednesday morning when the water suddenly shut off when I was covered in soap. Apparently that happens in India! The city water shuts off at certain times, but then the tank water came on half an hour later. It wasn’t cold, so at least I didn’t have to stand there freezing! It was actually kind of funny.

This is the view from my balcony. You can see we’re a little ways outside the city; it takes about half an hour drive.

I wish I could show a video of one of the flag dances at the church service on Sunday, but it's not posting properly. Like I said before, the service had very American feel to it, though they said the Tamil service is different, more in tune with local culture.

It was mother’s day, so we had a special prayer and blessing time for all the mothers. There was also a team visiting from Canada to start a partnership; that’s why you see some blonds. One lady was all alone up there, so I went up to pray for her. I’m the girl in the white shirt; George took the picture. Her name was Margaret, but she was from India. The boy with the white shirt and the boy with the superhero shirt facing front wards are Deeraj and Eso, two children from the children's home.

I like to go for walks in the morning before it gets hot, around 6:30am. Here are some pictures I took.

A very nice house and car. See, not all Indians are poor!

This name plate struck me as funny. Providence #21.

Lots of Christians in India have last names like that. Actually, the way the last name works, is that the children and wife take the father’s first name as their last name. So Manju is Manju George and Jedi is Jedadiah George. So this house the father’s first name is Providence. Very interesting.

This is a house under construction. A little girl, her dog, and someone else lives under that blue tarp too, but I haven’t met them personally. I’m not sure they speak English.

This is the guard house at the entrance/exit of the gated community where George and Manju live. I’m not allowed to go outside those gates by myself because it’s not safe. But I made friends with the people volunteering and working at the orphanage across the street, and they go out on Fridays, so I can go with them, since Friday is also my day off.

This is a small jungle/woods area nearby, but I’m not allowed to go in there. Next week we’ll go for an outing with the children into a real jungle, so I’m very excited about that!

Here are some beautiful flowers that grow in the neighborhood:


Crown Flower:

And I don’t know the names of these:

I know you really want to see pictures of the children, but I don’t feel comfortable taking them yet. George says I should get to know them well, and then take pictures in the context of our relationship. A lot of Indians see foreigners snapping photos of orphan kids and immediately think the orphanage is getting millions of US dollars in donations. We want to avoid this image as much as possible (mostly because it isn’t true) and prevent the children from getting this stereotype, so I’m being very careful. But don’t worry; when we go on vacation next week, that will be the perfect time for me to take pictures and you will get to see their lovely faces!

A little about the kids. My first and second days were a little exhausting. I was all by myself with them! Several misbehaved by hurting each other and not listening, but I got to see how well George patiently and Biblically corrected them that evening. He had them recite Bible verses about wisdom and obedience, then asked them how they had disobeyed, and how they should change. He told me he is not concerned about changing their behavior; he wants to change their heart. Once their heart is changed, then their behavior will follow. Doing the opposite, changing the behavior without changing the heart, results in hypocrites. 1.) Fear the Lord. 2.) Obey. Most people get that backwards.

The following day the children behaved much better, and I knew how to handle them, in groups, with other groups doing something else, instead of trying to teach them all together. Especially with recorders, they all want to play and have my attention at once. “Watch this, Akka, watch me!” They are wonderful, very bright, energetic children, but I’ll be very glad with the house parents come to help me! The children are already eager for “mommy and daddy” to return.

Here’s what my schedule looks like for the summer until the kids go to school in the first week of June. The bold stuff is stuff I’m in charge of or have to do each day. The other things are optional

My day off: Friday. Charles and Suddha’s day off: Thursday.

7:00-7:25: Jogging

7:30-7:45: kid’s devotion

7:45: Breakfast

8:15: bath and ready for the day (kids too)

9:00-9:30: Read.

9:30-10:00: Adult devotion.

10:00-11:00, writing practice. Topics: 1.) Letter to God, 2.) letter to a friend who doesn’t know Jesus, 3.) diary entry about the trip, (plus draw a picture) poetry, (4.) rhyming every line, 5.) rhyming every other line 6.) not rhyming like Psalms, something about God) short story (7.) nonfiction, what God has done in your life/8.) tell a Bible story in your own words), 9.) how to do something, fiction: 10.) make up a story that teaches something about God.

11:00-11:15: Break and snacks

11:15-12:45: Music time with recorders.

12:45: Lunch

1:15-3:45 Kids rest time.

3:15-3:45: I have personal devotion time with one child.

3:45: Break and snacks

4:00-5:00: Cycling and Games

5:00-6:00: Piano lesson. Monday: Pudit, Sudeep. Tuesday: Deeraj and Eso. Wednesday: Chichang and Matang, Thursday: Hemu and Angeli.

6:00-7:00: Activity or group game: Blind man’s bluff, Bible quiz, spoons, peek, hide n seek scavenger hunt, musical chairs, Red Rover, London Bridge, a dance, freeze tag, story time.

7:00-7:30: Devotion

7:30: Dinner

8:30 bedtime.

I’m also learning a lot about Indian culture and issues. Right not the government is very strict Hindu. Christian evangelism is forbidden, and those who do it, sometimes entire churches are shut down and the leaders thrown in prison. George has to be very careful with what he can and cannot do, and he’s had his share of trials. Though this doesn’t have to do with the Christian issue exactly, just yesterday, the bank wouldn’t give him the funds I sent. Manju needed it to pay the children’s school fees! George had to get on the phone with the bank president for over an hour, but thankfully, the issue was finally resolved.

The Christian persecution started back in the 90s after a terrible massacre of Christians. It’s hard to believe what some of the children have been through. Some come from refugee camps, others from physical and sexual abuse. But you would never know from spending time with them. They are so joyous and trusting, even the two new ones who came extremely malnourished. They are still struggling with English, but full of smiles and laughter.

Prayer requests for this week:

1.) My health has much improved, but George has been sick with fever. Please pray for him and his family to stay healthy, especially with the upcoming outing with the children!

2.) We’ll be going to a national forest in another state. Please pray for safety, especially from snakes and insects and accidents.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

2nd Day in India

This morning I got up at 6:30 for prayer and devotions. I sat out on the balcony and enjoyed the cool India morning. My passage was Isaiah 40: 1-5. "Comfort, comfort my people...that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for." "The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it." God told me he is doing a new thing in India, that he will comfort them, reveal his glory, and we shall see it. It was a very good Word.

We left for church at 9:00. The boys came with us in the car; we had nine people sitting in that five person car! Six boys sat in the back: Deeraj, Ashish, Chi-chan Bemu, Matang, Robert, and Esu. The smaller three boys sat on the older three boy's laps. Jedi, George and Manju's son, sat on my lap. George, the driver, of course, didn't have anyone on his lap, thankfully! George said this is very common in India, though he hopes at some time to be able to get a bigger car. Manju, the girls, and a few of the boys went by auto rickshaw, or just "auto," in the local dialect. The boys called me "Aka," which means "older sister."

The Assembly's of God service was in English, and the Pastor was quite a speaker! It felt very much like an American service, except during the worship songs, some girls from the congregation danced with big flags up on the stage. They tell me this is something they adopted from Israeli Christian worship. It is very beautiful and when I get my laptop working, I will post a video.

There was a team visiting from Calgary, Canada. They just set up a partnership with First Assemblies of God in Bangalore, George's church. Their pastor spoke about the very thing I had been studying that morning, Isaiah 40! He said the first 39 chapters are about God's wrath. But then God makes a dramatic shift in chapter 40 from judge to comforter, father, savior, and the remaining 26 chapters are all about His love and provision. It was a very encouraging message, especially for the Indian church which is suffering so much.

In addition, they also had a time of prayer for the mothers, since it was mother's day. All the mother's went up front and their children gave them flowers. One woman did not have any children with her, so I went up and gave her a rose. What lovely, beautiful people Indian Christians are! Their worship is so heartfelt and passionate. It is no wonder; many have sacrificed much for their beliefs.

After church, I had lunch with the children. They were very happy to meet me. The two girls are Hemalatha and  Sardanjali, very pretty girls. The two new boys are Sudeep and Punith. They are seven and nine years old, but so malnourished they are smaller than Jedi, who is almost four. Manju says they are to the point that they can eat flat bread, rice, and some curry, but some foods they are still having trouble with because they are not used to anything rich or heavy. But they are always smiling. Matang and Chi-chan are from Nagaland, and look more Chinese than Indian. Matang is very talkative. He asked me a million questions over lunch, but I could only understand about half of what he said because of his thick accent and quick speech! I also met George's stepmother who is a lovely lady. It is obvious they take very good care of the children. When I asked Matang if he and Chi-chan were brothers, he answered that all the children were his brothers and sisters. The home is very small, but it is full of love.

Well, I had best go to bed. Big day tomorrow!

Specific prayer requests:

Getting a bigger campus and car. There is a big need there, but they are trusting the Lord and He has always provided for them.

Until next time, keep loving and praying,

L.J. Popp

Saturday, May 12, 2012

India, safe and sound!

Hi, everyone! Yesterday I flew from Tulsa to Chicago, Chicago to Abu Dhabi, and Abu Dhabi to Bangalore without any trouble. Well, actually, I lost the piece of paper with George's address and phone number on it, so when I got to customs, I was in a bit of a jam when they asked for the exact location I would be staying. We got it sorted out, though, and George was right there to meet me when I came out of the airport doors at 6:30am, two hours later than expected because of a flight delay.

I'm staying with George and Manju in their apartment, just across the street from the children's home. I was wrong about the 13 children; there are only 10, but twelve including Jedi and Susanna, the house parent's daughter. I have my own room, with a very nice balcony and view, a shower with warm water, and a fan. The only modern convenience "lacking" is an air-conditioner, but after two years without one in Japan, I don't mind it. It's not as hot as I expected.

I've spent the day talking with them and settling in. They're such wonderful Christian people. I feel so honored to be here working with them and I know I will learn a lot!

Specific prayer requests:

1.) George wants to take the children on an outing before school stars up again in June, but because it's high season for travel, the tickets are more expensive than anticipated. Please pray he will find something economical but still fun and enriching for the children.

2.) My health has much improved, but my flu-like symptoms are still hanging on slightly. I'm very tired and congested still.

Until next time, keep loving and praying,

L.J. Popp 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

To Bangalore (and Beyond!)

Tomorrow’s the big day! In the afternoon I'm leaving to spend time at a children's in Bangalore, India for four months!

How did this all come to pass? Well, after two years in Japan and getting to be a part of the awesome things God is doing there (especially after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster), God called me back to the United States to be with my family for awhile and receive missionary training. Through that training (a masters course called Perspectives in World Missions offered at the University of Tulsa), I feel God calling me to work with orphans in countries that have little access to the Gospel. I researched various opportunities, and through a connection I had with Global Network in Tulsa, learned about SS home. (By providence, I was telling my friends about this opportunity, and my friend Abby got very excited and explained that she had helped at the home in 2009, and she absolutely loved it. She couldn't recommend it enough. I had no idea that she had worked there, so that totally confirmed to me that God really wanted me to do this!)

The directors, George Ebenezer and his wife Manju, are strong Christians who began this home out of a desire to provide quality orphan care that is sorely lacking in India. Rather than shoving dozens of kids together in low-funded, state-run orphanages, Santhosa Samsara follows the foster care system, with house parents in a loving, Christian environment. The ten children at Santhosa Samsara are mostly full orphans (both parents deceased). Some of their parents were Christians killed by Hindu or Muslim extremists in areas where persecution (sometimes even government sanctioned) occurs on a daily basis. During the summer, the regular Christian house parents take a break to return to their families and raise funding.

From May 10th until September 3rd, I will be filling in for them and teaching the children English and some basic kindergarten skills before they begin school in the fall. I will also be helping out with their ministry called Beyond Barriers.

God has totally provided all the funds I need to go! Now all I need is lots and lots of prayer support, and so do these precious children. They have already suffered so much in their short lives. Please pray that God will give them, George, Manju, and myself strength as we take this journey together.

I take this very seriously. I learned in one of my classes that the role of “sender” is just as important as “goer.” There’s a reason why India has only 2% Christ followers after 2,000 years of missionary activity there, and it isn’t because God loves them any less than He us. There are a lot of spiritual barriers there, just like in Japan. (Interestingly enough, multiple professors in the class noted that for the amount of time, money, and personnel that have been poured into missions in the last three centuries, Japan and India have been the least receptive. I consider that a challenge!) I promise to keep you all posted via this blog and facebook. Thank you for all your support, and God bless!

Specific Prayer Requests for now:

1.)That I will arrive safely in Bangalore.

2.) That I will stay healthy while adjusting to a new environment (and food)!

3.) That God will give me opportunities to witness for Christ in both word and deed.

Thanks again, and God bless!

Kids putting on a VBS presentation:

Link to a video about George’s ministry Beyond Barriers: